A smashing debutante on Saratoga’s July 15 opener, Echo Zulu followed up as the 0.65-1 favorite in Sunday’s $300,000 Spinaway S. (G1) on the penultimate day of the meet. The Steve Asmussen pupil hustled to the lead and held sway, becoming the first Grade 1 winner for top freshman sire Gun Runner.
“I can’t measure how much I wanted to have Gun Runner’s first Grade 1 winner,” said Asmussen, who conditioned the 2017 Horse of the Year throughout his racing career.
“Everything he’s done for the barn…he’s obviously a tremendous sire, and somebody had to be first, but I’m glad it was us.”
Adding to the familial connection is Echo Zulu’s half-brother Echo Town. By Speightstown, Echo Town earned his signature win in last summer’s H. Allen Jerkens (G1) over the same track and seven-furlong trip. Asmussen also trained Echo Town for L and N Racing, co-owners of Echo Zulu with Winchell Thoroughbreds. To complete the circle, Winchell co-owned Gun Runner too.
Unlike her half-brother in the Jerkens, however, Echo Zulu flashed high speed for their mutual rider, Ricardo Santana. The highly-regarded filly didn’t get away cleanly from post 3, as the ground appeared to break away beneath her when pushing off. But she immediately regrouped in stride, and Santana urged her forward.
Although the 42-1 Benbang was quickest from the gate, Echo Zulu wrested control through a quarter in :22.07 on the good track. Benbang could not maintain her position after Echo Zulu zipped the half in :44.73. Schuylerville (G3) winner Pretty Birdie, who had been tracking in third, likewise began to tread water on the far turn.
When Echo Zulu kept motoring into the stretch, only the 19-1 Tarabi was able to stay in range. The Ellis Park debut winner had a worse start than Echo Zulu, hitting the gate from post 1 and recovering to camp in fourth. Angling out as Pretty Birdie dropped back, Tarabi gamely pursued the winner, but actually lost ground late.
Echo Zulu widened her margin to four lengths at the wire while clocking 1:22.51.
“I had so much confidence,” Santana said, “that I only wore two goggles for seven furlongs. She was working real nice and today she improved a lot.
“I had plenty in the tank. I never hit her. She was running on strong.”
Asmussen noted that the Spinaway underscored Echo Zulu’s talent.
“Ricardo said after he came back, ‘I thought they let us get away with going a little slow, but then I looked back and saw the times. She’s just very fast, very easy.’
“It was a huge jump (from a maiden). We prepared her like a first-time starter at Saratoga to run. She responded and ran well and that was a long time ago going 5 1/2 (furlongs) against different horses. To jump from maidens to a Grade 1 off one run in a race with everything going your way is not easy. It takes a special horse to do it, and maybe that’s what she is.
“She is all class and training her she’ll go as easy as you want her to go and picks it up when asked. She’s not been in a hurry for a filly that’s as fast as she is.
“I thought she stutter-stepped the first step and then moved up in there. From the inside in a Grade 1 to stutter-step a bit and then rush a jump to be back where you thought you were going to be and run like that – that’s not easy to do. A real credit to her.”
Tarabi’s trainer, Cherie DeVaux, was delighted with her best-of-the-rest performance by 3 3/4 lengths.
“She ran great. I’m really pleased with her effort,” DeVaux said. “Stepping up into Grade 1 company off a win at Ellis Park is a tall ask, and she was just so professional and handled everything well. She stumbled and Javier (Castellano) didn’t panic, and she just picked it back up and got herself collected and into the race.
“I’m not sure how far she (Tarabi) wants to go, and Javier had the same impression. A mile might be too far for her – six or seven (furlongs) is where she’s likely going to be most effective.”
Saucy Lady T closed for third, replicating her effort from the Aug. 15 Adirondack (G2) behind Echo Zulu’s stablemate (and fellow Gun Runner filly) Wicked Halo. Sequist rallied from last to take fourth, another 4 3/4 lengths astern. Next came Dream Lith, Benbang, Sue Ellen Mishkin, Girl With a Dream, and the eased Pretty Birdie, who returned without anything obviously amiss, according to trainer Norm Casse’s first impression.
“Luis (Saez) said he pressed her a little bit at the three-eighths pole and she wasn’t responding, so he just wrapped up with her and took care of her,” Casse said. “I watched her jog back and she’s sound, and it didn’t look like she bled.”
Echo Zulu has bankrolled $220,000 by winning her first two starts. Bred by Betz, J. Betz, Burns, CHNNHK, Magers, CoCoEquine, and Ramsby in Kentucky, the bay sold for $300,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. She is the fifth stakes performer produced by the Grade 2-winning Menifee mare Letgomyecho, who is responsible for Grade 3 scorer J Boys Echo, Grade 3-placed Unbridled Outlaw, and multiple stakes-placed Dragic in addition to Echo Town and Echo Zulu.
Michael Levinson of L and N Racing marveled at the “Echo” half-sibling acts in consecutive years.
“At the top of the stretch, you’re looking at :44 for the half and thinking how does she (Echo Zulu) stay up? But she found another gear and finished up in 1:22 on a pretty slow track today. This was absolutely incredible.
“To win back-to-back Grade 1 races with two horses from the same family is incredible. She and (Echo Town) both won a Grade 1 at Saratoga going seven furlongs. Obviously, she’s a year younger. It looks like the sky is the limit for her. We’re going to enjoy the win and see what happens. Steve will have to decide where she goes next.”
Asmussen already has the Oct. 3 Frizette (G1) at Belmont Park, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), circled on the calendar.
“That looked like it would translate to the Frizette pretty good to me, and that would hopefully be the bridge (to the Breeders’ Cup). To suggest what she can’t do right now would probably be a mistake.”